Movie Review: Before Sunrise (1995)

Disclaimer: The following article contains several spoilers for the film Before Sunrise.

Before Sunrise (1995) is a romantic film directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy. We watch as their two captivating characters, Jesse and Céline, interact with one another – honest strangers in a foreign country, meeting for a surreptitious moment in time.

Jesse is an American man heading to Vienna, travelling around Europe, while Céline is a French woman, returning from a visit to her grandmother in Budapest. Upon meeting on a train, they start talking and form a connection with one another. In an act of spontaneity, Céline gets off the train with Jesse, and they spend the day together in the beautiful city of Vienna.

  1. Initial Impressions

At first glance, the movie appears startlingly simple, with no major plot points or twists and turns that usually accompanies romantic dramas. Instead, the film mainly focuses on dialogue between the two characters, sharing endless anecdotes one after the other, revealing things about themselves that one could only really do with a total stranger, that you knew you’d never meet again.

Although little to no conflict arises, the reality of their limited time together looms over the entire course of the film. Sometimes, their dialogue would be so engaging that I’d almost forget – that they haven’t, and won’t have, much time together at all. But somehow, Before Sunrise finds a way to subtly bring it back to our attention, whether it be through the gradual darkening of the sky, the shadows cast on the floor, or in the very words that leave their mouths.

  1. Character Dynamics

For a movie that relies so heavily on the dialogue between two characters, the chemistry between their actors is imperative – to be undeniable, intriguing and almost tangible. Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke’s performance does exactly that; so much so that it didn’t feel like acting of any kind. I felt like I was simply watching two real and raw people, taking a leap of faith and letting go of the walls they’ve built. 

Despite Jesse’s scruffy charm and laid-back humour, Céline came across so much more wonderfully to me – she was enchanting to watch, with limitless stories and willingness to share things about herself. Throughout the film, Jesse attempts to initiate a lot of things, but it’s always Céline that follows through and makes the final step. 

I’d give you a succinct sentence to describe their personalities, but it feels almost impossible when they’re both so multifaceted; so human. It’s fascinating – Jesse and Céline are nothing like one another, yet they find themselves in one another all the same.

  1. Artistic Devices

As they walk around Vienna, Jesse and Céline encounter various people on the street, one of which was a poet. This was a scene that stood out to me strongly – the poet writes them a poem that perfectly encapsulates the themes running throughout the film. 

Personally, I feel like one of Before Sunrise’s greatest charms is that we get to see Céline through Jesse’s eyes and vice versa – they’re strangers to us all the same. There’s a sense of anonymity; like two branches lodged in life. Not only are we experiencing the movie in real-time, but we’re also learning about the characters at an equal pace. 

Strangely enough, despite the film being only 1 hour and 40 minutes, by the end of it, I was so attached to the characters that seeing their quick attraction and fondness to one another made perfect sense. When the poet recited his poem, ending with ‘Don’t you know me? Don’t you know me by now?’ it felt extremely significant to me, possibly illustrating that perhaps time isn’t always as important as we think it is, when it comes to love. Who’s to say something instantaneous isn’t genuine?

  1. Cinematography

Now, I don’t know much (or anything at all, really) about film production and camera shots, but there were several moments in the film where the view of Vienna was so, very pretty. Even if Jesse and Céline were just walking casually down a street, dimly lit by tall street lamps and grey cobblestone, the setting would come across with such romance – like how everything in a different country looks brighter and appears to be more beautiful than anything of your own.

There were many moving shots in this movie, where we’d follow the conversation between Jesse and Céline while they were walking. This made me feel so deeply involved with the setting, and contributed to the real-time experience of the entire movie – their conversation was once again the focal point, and we get lost in the moment. 

At the end of the movie, Linklater includes wide shots of all the streets, cafes and little places that Jesse and Céline visited together, except without them in it. It was truly stunning. It struck me how the characters breathed so much life into everywhere they went in such a short span of time; reminding us once again of the ever-fleeting nature of the film.

  1. Final Thoughts – 8.5/10

Before Sunrise is the kind of film that leaves you breathless after it’s over. The kind of film that’s realistic enough to give you hope for yourself – that introduces the question of whether you want to spend your life regretting all the chances you didn’t take. It’s an enthralling, thought-provoking movie and if that’s exactly what you’re looking for, you won’t regret watching this.

By Lillian Lai

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